Introduction/Goals: This position paper is dedicated to Ms. Vilma Santos and her Vilmanians. I am an avid Vilmanian myself who followed the actress’ career ever since I could remember her in Ging, Dama De Noche, Larawan ng Pag-ibig and up to the present where she is running for Governor of Batangas. As for me, there is no other Actor and Politician like Vilma Santos. She is an Icon, a National Treasure, a Role Model and an Inspiration to all Filipinos for generations. Predicted to win the Batangas gubernatorial on May 14, 2007, talks are rife that she may run for President in 2010, with critic Nestor Torre concurring: Not only will Vilma win in the gubernatorial elections, but — if she does well in the post — she could be a nominee for president in 2010! From the movies to Lipa to Batangas to Malacañang Palace — what a stunning upward trajectory for Vilma! Call her V for endless Victory!
Of course this paper may be biased but I have tried to be as fair and balanced as I could if only to prove, through published historical data, that Vilma is the better actress than Nora, and, may be the Philippines’ best actress of all time. Notice the open ended declaration. Let me explain. As a cineaste and observer, I have no qualifications like Nicanor Tiongson, Nestor Torre, Behn Cervantes, Butch Francisco or Ricky Lo et al to make such a sweeping statement. My job as a Registered Nurse and an accountant on the side, watching, reading and writing about movies, especially about my fave Vilma is a hobby. I also went to various film retrospectives in Metro-Manila of American, French, German, Swedish (Bergman’s my fave director of all time), Japanese and Chinese movies as a serious movie enthusiast would. Prior to my migration to the U.S. in 1984, I have worked part-time with the late Palanca-winning writer Boy Noriega, Jr. (Soltero, Bayan- Bayanan) of the defunct Experimental Cinema of the Philippines as a movie analyst. Boy and I were schoolmates and neighbors. He had good words for Nora, Vilma and Hilda, his favorites. He knew I was a Vilmanian since way back. I did some research for Boy on such topics as Alternative Cinema, Philippine style and helped serve as usher and manned the box-office to sell tickets. In the 1983 Manila International Film Festival, I had a chance to rub elbows with the high and the mighty and watched unforgettable movies like In the Realm of the Senses and the premiere showing of E.T. and Soltero (Jay Ilagan) at the Manila Film Center. Mr. Ed Cabagnot was also a fellow ECP part-time employee. My full time job in Manila was marketing research/brand management in a big firm that marketed cough/cold medicines and skin lotions. I had a chance to promote our products in such TV shows like Eat Bulaga, VIP and Big Ike’s Happening.
I last saw Vilma win her second Urian for Broken Marriage at the Rizal Theater and when she promoted the movie at Eat Bulaga, where coincidentally, Sharon Cuneta was also present to promote Bukas, Luluhod ang Mga Tala. The two had a special bond off camera even then, as in Mutual Admiration and Respect Society. The other reason for the may be is that Nora has appeared live on stage such as DH and Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamo with documented glowing reviews while Vilma has yet to appear in at least one, as offered by the CCP and the U.P. groups. Unfortunately, much as Vilma wanted to succumb to the lure and challenge of the stage, she had to say no for the moment for obvious reasons. Among the respected film actresses, she seemed to be the only one who had yet to appear on the legitimate stage to complete her acting career resume and to put a closure and defend her enviable titular position as the Premier Actress of the Land (U. P. Film Institute). Non-appearance at the stage does not decrease Vilma’s stature as the finest actress of her generation. It is interesting to note that Vilma’s foray to the stage was when she appeared as Veronica in a CCP Theater Lenten Play in the 70’s directed by Ruben Tizon, Sr. (Batang West Side best supporting actor at an International film festival).
My film appreciation flourished at the State University where I was a business major and began at the elementary when I tagged along with my 11 siblings, from Kuya, Diko, Ate, Ditse, Sanse, Dete and my Father and Mother, to the movies. It was a disparate film noir/genre, depending on who treated me the happiest place on earth, the movie house. From The Ten Commandments to Hitchcock’s Psycho, Ingmar Bergman‘s The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, Julie Andrews’ The Sound of Music, Ian Fleming’s James Bond, to FPJ’s Daniel Barrion, to the tearjerker melodramas of Lolita Rodriguez, the Amalia Fuentes-Susan Roces fisticuff in Tulisan, and of course, the impressive, young Vilma Santos in Larawan ng Pag-ibig. Let it be known though that I have the highest respect for Ms. Aunor as a singer and actress. I’ve also seen some of her finest films including Himala, Ina Ka ng Anak Mo, Bilangin ang Bituin, Bulaklak sa City Jail, Merika, Andrea and Flor Contemplacion. I’ve accompanied my Noranian sister to the superstar’s concerts in Atlantic city in New Jersey, and I was impressed with her golden voice, and those magnetic eyes that sparkle and speak volumes when they look at you. Data source for this paper are the fans’ websites, the Wikipedia websites, the FAMAS, FAP (Luna), Urian websites, various Internet movie database, the U.P. Film Institute website, various movie journals and periodicals, where appropriate. This paper will attempt to debunk the theory that Vilma Santos’ approach to film acting as hysterical, which is a myth, as opposed to Nora Aunor’s natural and gut feel approach. The overall goal is to present, compare and analyze and make conclusions, based on judicious, fair and balanced review of data at hand as to who should be crowned the Philippines’ greatest actress.
The recognition, which comes with a Napoleon Abueva trophy, is given to one practitioner in one medium for each year. The awardee is expected to deliver the Plaridel Lecture which addresses important media issues. In the U.S. there’s also the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. The highest honor given for a career in film, the AFI Life Achievement Award was established by the AFI Board of Trustees on February 26, 1973. It is presented to a single honoree each year based on the following criteria as mandated through a resolution passed by the AFI Board of Trustees: “The recipient should be one whose talent has in a fundamental way advanced the film art; whose accomplishment has been acknowledged by scholars, critics, professional peers and the general public; and whose work has stood the test of time.” I am adopting/applying the criteria set forth by the U.P. Gawad Plaridel and the AFI Life Achievement Award as my guide in my proposed thesis as they are not only specific about Film Acting/Career but has the least if not nil shade of any politicking that seemed evident in such government-backed projects such as the MMFF, the CCP Centennial Award and the National Artist Award.
Even in the slum scenes, the actors were made to look poor with a dash of charcoal chalk painted in their limbs and torso. The leading actresses looked more Ridiculous – they had make-up on, long fingernails and a Susan Roces hairdo where you could build an egg’s nest. The set background, the story line, dialogues, characterization/internalization/motivation were all incongruent with each other. It was pathetic, albeit hysterical. It was Lolita Rodriguez and occasionally Barbara Perez and Ms. Rita Gomez (SLN), to my recollection, which impressed me the most with their tempered, down to earth performances. Then Lino Brocka (SLN) came, along with the classics Tubog Sa Ginto, Tinimbang Ka Nguni’t Kulang, Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa and Insiang. Not far behind was Ishmael Bernal (Pagdating sa Dulo, Lumapit, Lumayo ang Umaga, Nunal Sa Tubig, Dalawang Pugad, Isang Ibon) and of course Eddie Romero (Ganito Kami Noon), Lupita Kashiwahara (Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamo), Mario O’Hara (Talong Taong Walang Diyos) and Celso Ad. Castillo (Pagputi ng Uwak) Artists challenged artists and the 70’s renaissance moviemaking gave birth to the Filipino Golden Age of movies since the 50’s. Under the tutelage of Lino Brocka and Mario O’Hara, Nora Aunor (Bona, Tatlong Taong), Hilda Koronel (Insiang) and Lolita Rodriguez (Tinimbang Ka, Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa), were the Critics’ Choices. Nora and Hilda’s movies made waves at the Cannes Film festival where before the pre-Brocka era, Philippine movies were unheard of. Meanwhile, the box-office receipts were in favor of Vilma Santos (Lipad, Darna, Lipad et al) while the critics were raving over Nora and Hilda. How the tables were turned through the years is discussed in another section.
Who Is The Better Film Actress? - Before Relasyon (1982) and even after Burlesk Queen (1977), the movie that liberated Vilma from Nora’s shadow and that made the critics began to look at her as a serious actress, Nora Aunor was the Critics’ Darling. She was ‘the standard where her contemporary actresses will be measured.’ She earned this birth right via her quiet performances, where she made use of her soulful eyes that speak volume. She was the Queen of Restraint, in the league of Lolita Rodriguez, her senior counterpart. They were the quiet counterparts of the verbose and volcanic Vilma Santos and Charito Solis. Ms. Aunor could hold you at the palm of her hands with her tour de force performances that wowed local and foreign jurors in such films as Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos, Bona, Himala and Ina Ka Ng Anak Mo (her best performance ever). She was ahead of her time. The critics won over, she would be at the top of the best actress surveys of all time, with Vilma Santos, Lolita Rodriguez, Hilda Koronel, Charito Solis and Gina Alajar trailing her.(DGPI, journal/tabloid data). The Bicolana superstar would send fellow superstar Vilma and others home as she collected trophies from the critics’ groups the Urian and PMPC Star, as fish does water. Her films Himala and Bona were getting rave reviews internationally and she almost won her first international trophy for Himala at the Berlin Film Festival by a mere vote (fans’ website). She was at the top of her game. She could do no wrong. Lupita Kashiwahara (Inquirer): “Nora Aunor will sit down in a chair and you can have 10 different emotions coming out of her. She’s that good. I still honestly believe that she’s one of our national treasures,” she gushes. Vilma Santos, her chief rival both at the box-office and acting supremacy contest, was an also ran, playing second fiddle to the talented singer/actress.
Nestor Torre elucidates: “In those days, it looked like Nora could do no wrong. Even if she made quickie films, they would win awards over Vilma’s better-executed starrers. After years of this unfair competition, Vilma decided to stop playing the also-ran, and opted to essay the roles that Nora preferred not to do—the other woman, rape victim, burlesque dancer, etc (Inquirer).
Butch Francisco further clarifies: “It took long for Vilma Santos to be recognized as a serious actress. Although she won a major acting award – 1972 FAMAS Best Actress for Dama de Noche (she tied with Boots Anson-Roa) – ahead of Nora Aunor, it was the latter who first became the toast of the critics, the members of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino in particular. Unlike Nora Aunor who only has to use her eyes to convey emotions, Vilma’s early performances were often hampered by her soft features and rather thin voice.” (Philippine Star)
The turning point was the 1978 MMFF where Vilma (Rubia Servios) was predicted to win for her more “technically difficult role” says Manunuri Isagani Cruz in his review (Urian anthology, book 1), lost to Nora (Atsay) for the best performer award. Vilma took her biggest defeat to heart. After that fateful night, rumors had it that she was suicidal, inconsolable, depressed and vowed not attend awards ceremonies anymore. The next thing we know, she was up against Nora again in the 1979 MMFF where it was a lopsided affair. Nora, in her best performance in years as a barren wife and daughter to Lolita Rodriguez in Ina Ka ng Anak Mo tied with the other queen of restraint for best actress. Vilma’s tardiness on the set of Modelong Tanso with costar Charito Solis (this was their ill-fated entry to the 1979 MMFF to square off with the Lolita/Nora tandem) irked her Tita Chato big time that on one occasion, as the paparazzi allegedly reported, La Solis brought her best actress trophies on the set and told Vilma: “kaya mong tapatan yang mga trophies na iyan?” True or not, the gesture from a more professional, experienced actress Chato probably was to stir up the 1979 Box-office Queen to straighten her act if she wants to remain on top and beat the competition. The two divas however became close friends and would work together in Vilma’s award-winning films Ipagpatawad Mo and Dolzura Cortez. Ms. Solis’ highest regards for Vilma was revealed when she told the media point blank that “Vilma is a better actress than Nora.” (Ricky Lo, Philippine Star). Meanwhile, Nora continued her winning streak via Bona. Directed by Lino Brocka, the movie was a big hit at the Cannes film festival and earned Nora her second Urian trophy. Vilma remained the box-office queen but the critics’ stamp of approval eluded her. Vilma pondered these things in her heart. She regrouped. She had a career/talent inventory and soul-searching.
Mr. Torre (Inquirer) continues: Vilma’s “sexy” movies were more suggestive than anything else, but they gave her a new screen persona that made her a distinct movie entity from Nora. Fact is, Nora could also have played sensual characters, but she felt awkward doing so, and Vilma benefited from her reticence. In time, Vilma was also winning acting awards and starring in big hits, so the competition between her and Nora peaked. Then, in the 80s, Nora’s personal problems affected her career, while the more professional Vilma became producers’ actress of choice. Nobody doubted Nora’s talent, but Vilma had talent “and” professionalism, so she soon streaked in front of her archrival. No longer did she compete in areas where she was “dehado,” like singing. Instead, she stressed her dancing ability, sensuality and versatility, and truly came into her own. Mr. Francisco (Philippine Star) concurs: -But through hard work and determination- plus her collaborative efforts with top directors like Ishmael Bernal, Celso Ad Castillo, Lino Brocka and later, Mike de Leon, Laurice Guillen, Marilou Diaz-Abaya and Chito Roño, she became one of the greatest actresses of Philippine cinema.
Vilma may have reached the level of superstardom on a stack of materials with the so-called “commercial appeal,” but along the way, she also chose scripts that tackled social issues and oftentimes was experimental with her roles. The other woman part she portrays in Relasyon may be sympathetic, but in our society the mistress is still the much-hated third party in the break up of most marriages. Vilma, however, risked playing that and in the process was rewarded with the first of her four sets of grand-slam win in the various local award-giving bodies. In Sister Stella L., she plays an activist nun in a picture that doesn’t allow her to have romantic scenes that are rudimentary in most movies. Sister Stella L. may have bombed at the boxoffice, but it is listed among the finest in the history of local films and gave Vilma the third of her eight Urian trophies. But she was most commendable when she decided to accept the films Pahiram ng Isang Umaga and Dahil Mahal Kita (The Dolzura Cortez Story) because fans don’t want their screen idols to die in the movies. During the past six years (when she was already the mayor of Lipa City), she already had the full luxury of accepting only the film projects she fancies.
Actually, she only made four films during this period: Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Ginawa?, Anak, Dekada ‘70 and Mano Po 3: My Love. Except in Mano Po 3, where she is always fashionably dressed, she allows herself to be de-glamorized in her more recent films, at an age when most movie queens would rather be photographed through gauze or any gadget today’s modern technology could provide to erase those tell-tale wrinkles and lines. Fortunately, she always seems to be making the right choices. And the tables have turned. Nick Joaquin reveals Vilma’s secret weapon (Vilma, The Glad Girl): “What’s Vilma’s secret to remain on top?” Ishmael Bernal, who claims to have directed Vilma’s best pictures, believes she has endured because she has physical, emotion and mental endurance. She could work for 24 hours straight without getting tired, without flagging in her acting. There were times when we had to shoot for three or four successive days, getting very little sleep, but there Vilma would be: fresh, enthusiastic, rarin’ to go. Physical endurance is very important to a star. Another thing I noticed was her strong sense of competition. At that time, though of course, she didn’t say so, it was Nora she wanted to beat. Vilma was out to be the bigger star, the better actress. And so she geared her career for a zoom to the top.”
Lino Brocka who directed her in three of her most applauded vehicles: Rubia Servios, Adultery and Hahamakin Lahat tells Nick Joaquin (Vilma, The Glad Girl): “When you work with Vilma,” says Brocka, “you get this feeling of having just emerged from a bath and of being drenched all over with Johnson’s baby cologne. You feel so fresh, so youthful.” He adds that when they first worked together she seemed scared of him. Now he gushes: “Ang sarap niyang katrabaho.” The chief reason, of course, is: “She has matured and grown up as an actress. At this point of her career, she is very good, she is really big. Before, she had a hard time making herself cry, but now how fast she can do it. And she has become sensitive to direction: in that respect she has overtaken Nora.” Brocka says that the sensitivity he noticed at once in Nora Aunor was what he missed when he started directing Vilma. “So I assumed that, as an actress, she was really just second to Nora. But Vilma takes good care of herself not only physically – there’s always this aura about her – but intellectually too: so she grows and develops tremendously. The second time I worked with her, in Adultery, I realized she had become as good as Nora, or better. And by the time of Hahamakin Lahat there was the complete sensibility already – a difference in the way she expressed pain and hurt. Talent was welling out like spring water, and flowing from her most naturally, no longer courtesy of Vicks or whatever.” Flash forward to the present: From all angles such as box-office clout, talent fee, producers’ choice, net worth, longevity, public perception and respect, and successful dual careers, it seems that Vilma has the upperhand.
It is in the Battle for Acting Supremacy that the two are several notches superior vis-a-vis their senior and junior movie queen counterparts. Their very long rivalry as acting divas is characterized by almost hairline, marginal and/or split votes by film scholars and critics and the general public such as the Gore/Bush 2000 Presidential Election results. While occasional, inconclusive surveys would put Nora on the top over second placer Vilma (DGPI, tabloids), National Awards groups such as the National Artist Award and the U.P. Film Institute’s Gawad Plaridel have considered her nomination, with the latter (Gawad Plaridel) crowning her their winner as Outstanding Film Practitioner in 2005.(U.P. Film Institute, various websites) Vilma versus Nora in the major leagues – Head to head stats The thesis is not complete without discussing the two great actresses’ head on collisions in acting jousts where tension almost always ran high during awards nights and with their respective fans standing by their idol win or lose. Sidebar: In women’s tennis history, the most watched and publicized was that of Steffi Graf and Monica Seles.
Overall, (10-5 head to head) Graf ruled over Seles but early on, Seles put Graf over the edge in their classic matches where Seles would dominate/ overpower Graf to rule women’s tennis, until a deranged Graf fan stabbed Seles at the back during a tennis game break. The incident sidelined Seles and derailed her way to replacing Graf as the queen of tennis. Graf took advantage of her absence. In her comeback, Seles could only break Graf in the small leagues but in the grand slams, Graf showed her who’s the boss and went on to win 22 grand slams and has the record of being the longest reigning women’s tennis champion ever, 377 weeks. However, the only major tennis star that Graf did not overpower in single matches was the real queen of women’s tennis (more than 100 tennis championship titles), Martina Navratilova, where, toe to toe, they are deadlocked at 9-9 in their 18 matches face to face. As we review Nora and Vilma’s ‘boxing’ matches for film acting supremacy, will the pattern show a Graf/Seles or a Graf/Navratilova picture? Let’s bring it on(source: fans’ websites).
1972 - Nora (And God Smiled at Me) beats Vilma (Dama De Noche) at the Quezon City Film Festival. Score: Nora, 1; Vilma, 0.
1973 - Vilma (Dama de Noche) tied with Boots Anson-Roa (Tatay na si Erap) to beat Nora (A Gift of Love) at the FAMAS. Score: Vilma, 1; Nora, 0.
1975 - Vilma (Nakakahiya?) clobbered Nora at the Bacolod Film Festival (Banaue) for best actress. It is still a puzzle why Nora’s Best Actress list (NA website) includes the Gawad Buglas award/best picture (Banaue) as a ‘best actress win’)? Score: Vilma, 1; Nora, 0. (See by the numbers secion)
1978 - Nora (Atsay) was the Best Performer, beating Vilma (Rubia Servios) and company. Vilma and Nora (both nominated for Ikaw Ay Akin) lost to Beth Bautista at the Urian. Vilma (Pagputi ng Uwak) and Nora (Atsay) both lost to Susan Roces (Gumising Ka, Maruja!) at the FAMAS. Score: Nora, 1; Vilma, 0.
1979 - Nora and Lolita Rodriguez (Ina Ka ng Anak Mo) clobbered the Vilma/Charito Solis tandem at the MMFF for best actress. Score: Nora, 1; Vilma, 0.
1982 - Vilma single handedly won her first of four Grand slams for Relasyon over Nora (Himala) at the Urian, FAP and the CMMA, and over Nora again (Mga Uod at Rosas) at the FAMAS. Score: Vilma, 4; Nora, 0.
1984 - At the first PMPC Star Awards, Nora (‘Merika , Condemned, Bulaklak sa City Jail) edged Vilma (Sister Stella L. and Aida Macaraeg) for actress of the year. They were the only nominees for best actress. Nora won the most votes for ‘Merika over Vilma’s Stella L. A case of split votes? At the Urian however, Vilma (Sister Stella L.) beats Nora (‘Merika, Bulaklak sa City Jail). Another case of split votes? At the FAMAS, Nora (Bulaklak sa City Jail) and Sharon Cuneta (Dapat Ka Bang Mahalin?) tied to beat Vilma (Sister Stella L.). Score: Nora, 2; Vilma, 1.
1989 - Vilma (Pahiram ng Isang Umaga) bested Nora (Bilangin Ang Mga Bituin Sa Langit) at the PMPC Star Awards, her first of 6 best actress trophies. At the Urian, the rivals tied for best actress for the same movies. Score: Vilma, 2; Nora, 1.
1990 - Nora (Andrea) won over Vilma (Hahamakin Lahat) at the Star Awards and the FAP; over Vilma (Kapag Langit ang Humatol) at the Urian. Score: Nora, 3; Vilma, 0.
1991 - Nora almost had a grand slam for Pacita M. when she won at the FAMAS (Vilma is already a Hall of Famer), and over Vilma (Ipagpatawad Mo) at the FAP and the Star Awards. At the Urian, Vilma (Ipagpatawad Mo) halted Nora’s trip (Pacita M.) to the Grand slams. Score: Nora, 2; Vilma, 1.
1999 - Nora Aunor was the only actress cited in the CCP Centennial Honors for the Arts. No documentation or any proof would show if Vilma Santos was also considered for the award. The CCP, the MMFF and the National Commission for the Arts (which selects the NAA nominees, with the eventual winner to be selected by the President) are all government-run awards bodies. Nora joined actors FPJ and Dolphy for the honors, in what many consider an Erap Circle of Friends who heavily campaigned for his bid for President. Published reports also showed that Erap gave Nora a house as a token of gesture for helping him win the presidency in 1998. He would later be deposed via the Edsa People’s Power and replaced by then Vice President Gloria M. Arroyo for plundering the country’s wealth and is currently under house arrest and awaiting trial. Score: not applicable.
2004 - Nora (Naglalayag) bested Vilma (Mano Po 3) at the PASADO awards, tied with Vilma at the Gawad Tanglaw awards and lost to Vilma at the Star Awards. At the Urian where they were both nominated for Naglalayag and Mano Po 3 respectively, neither one won. Judy Ann Santos (Sabel) went home with the trophy. Nora, 1; Vilma, 1.
2005 - Nora was eliminated during the initial deliberation for the coveted U.P. Gawad Plaridel Award wherein Vilma eventually won over National Artist nominee Mike De Leon and National Artist Awardee Eddie Romero. Score: Vilma, 1; Nora, 0. (See U.P. Gawad Plaridel’s citation for 2005 winner Vilma santos).
2006 - Nora and Vilma were both nominated for the National Artist Award but were eliminated in the first round. FPJ was the eventual winner, who was chosen by sitting President Gloria M. Arroyo over finalists Mike De Leon and Manuel Conde.
Total head-to-head winner: - Vilma, 10, over Nora, 7. Very close indeed. Of course, Nora’s fans will protest as I did not include minor award groups, especially the U.P. YCC where Nora is the favorite in whatever movie she appears in, such as Inay. Interestingly, Nora bested Vilma once while Vilma got more votes than Nora three times at the Urian. At the FAP, Nora shut out Vilma three times to Vilma’s one; at local film festivals, Nora beats Vilma three times to Vilma’s one; they are even at the FAMAS, 1:1; at the Star Awards Nora’s ahead with, 3, Vilma, 1, although at the Star Awards, although overall, Vilma has six to to Nora’s four actress of the year awards; PASADO, Nora, 1, Vilma, 0, although Vilma won there three times (see By the Numbers section). - Mario O. Garces, Vilma & Nora, Rivalry No More, Special Issue Magazine, 2006